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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy and Fabian Espindola celebrate Espindola's goal Saturday.

SANDY — It was long overdue, and greatly anticipated.

Fabian Espindola ended his scoring drought of 12 games dating back to the matchup at Chivas on June 16, filling the role as goal scorer Saturday night with the absence of fellow striker Alvaro Saborio.

The goal paved the way to a Real Salt Lake victory, and effectively punched their ticket into the postseason.

"Being a forward, you have to score no matter what the situation is," said Espindola.

The Argentine striker notched the goal on a set-piece just outside the Portland box, after taking a back-heel from Javier Morales and blasting the shot through the wall into the back of the net.

"I felt like it was very close, and I know Javi is very good at taking free kicks, but it was so close and I thought that a hard shot would be better in that situation," said Espindola. "I was thinking maybe they were going to jump, so I went low."

It was a welcome sight for head coach Jason Kreis, who stressed the importance of Espindola getting back on the right track.

"Fabian was really bright in and around their goal tonight, and on a different night he walks out of here with three goals and its an easy night for us," said coach Kreis.

"It's a step in the right direction, very much so, and I think that his confidence should improve from here on out."

Espindola nearly had himself a hat trick by the end of the night, with attempts in the 57th and 64th minute that were both deflected away by Portland keeper Joseph Bendik.

Although the Claret-and-Cobalt managed to earn the three points with a 2-1 win, a second half Timbers surge nearly had the home team in quite the blunder. Espindola was vocal of how important it is to play the full 90 minutes, and the need for improvement as a team.

"In the second half they played way better than us, so I don't want to have another game like this," said Espindola. "It's good to score, but we have to improve a lot."

As important as it is to clinch a playoff berth, Espindola noted that RSL still has five MLS games left and that things look good moving forward.

"Now we have to keep moving forward, get a good spot and win the Cup."

NOTEBOOK: Saturday night was yet another setback for Portland, who moved to a dismal 0-11-4 record away from JELD-WEN Field. For a team that had nothing to lose, virtue of being statistically eliminated from the playoffs last week, it's still a sour note for the visiting team.

Email: cjohnson@desnews.com